Our students expect guidance and advice from us, they pay for it and hope that it can benefit their language ability. The biggest part of that expectation is that their teacher will correct them when they make mistakes. Too much error correction however can push a student into silence and the absence of it can cause students to grow suspicious of our performance. They might feel that we are not paying attention or simply do not care very much about doing our jobs well. In order to find the right balance between helping our students fix errors to improve their accuracy and providing an effective classroom environment that fosters confidence, safety and fluency we must make an important distinction then on when and when not to correct.
SET THE RIGHT ERROR CORRECTION ENVIRONMENT
Explain to the students that errors happen to everyone, even native speakers make errors all the time. Furthermore in class mistakes are a good thing! They create opportunities for the teacher and student to work together and make a difference for improving everyone’s English. Making mistakes in our classroom is expected and welcomed. The more mistakes you make in here (our safe classroom environment) the less mistakes you will make out their using your English in real world settings. Now, that is a good thing!
Keep it positive at all times! Saying “you almost got
that perfect” is better than “that was wrong”.
Inform your students on why and how you will correct. I like to tell them I am somewhat of a machine, a teaching and correcting machine. It’s my job and it is nothing personal at all. If I correct you in any way just hear the correction, repeat it, and keep on speaking! You never have to apologize or stop talking because of an error. Also I make sure everyone knows that if I am silent that means that everyone is doing a fantastic job with the day’s target language and my silence means their success.
WHEN TO ERROR CORRECT? – THE ARGUMENT
There is some subjectivity on when you should step in and correct. The benefits of correction are obvious, we can improve a student’s accuracy and help them to avoid fossilization of their mistakes. However there are disadvantages to consider. Interruptions by the teacher, however helpful, can stop the flow of activities, stifle student’s practice to speak fluently, and hurt student’s confidence. This is why I mentioned before an important distinction should be made on when and when not to correct. The rule I go by is simple.
Using previously learned material incorrectly is a
mistake and SHOULD be corrected, using material incorrectly
which has not yet been studied is an error and can be IGNORED.
We need to be vigilant and constantly on the lookout for mistakes in our students English rather than attempting to stop them, or our lesson activities, every time we hear an error. [Read deeper: 10 Good Reasons not to Correct Students] We should correct mistakes in various areas of our student’s produced language. Grammar, vocabulary choice, pronunciation of both words and correct stressing in sentences are the usual areas to monitor closely.